July 4, 2016

Book Review: The Asylum by John Harwood

Source: Vine

Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in a small room in Tregannon House, a remote asylum in England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor, Maynard Straker, tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton, then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London: “Your patient must be an imposter.” Suddenly her voluntary confinement becomes involuntary. Who is the woman in her uncle’s house? Georgina’s perilous quest to free herself takes us from a cliffside cottage on the Isle of Wight to the secret passages of Tregannon House and into a web of hidden family ties on which her survival depends.

This is my third John Harwood book, having read and enjoyed The Ghost Writer and The Seance. Harwood is a master of the gothic novel and in The Asylum, he is in fine form. Told from Lucy/Georgina's perspective of one day waking up at the asylum and not knowing how or why she got there, the novel throws the reader into an instant state of suspense, which continues for almost all of the book. Is Lucy/Georgina an unreliable narrator? Is she truly mentally ill or the victim of a sinister plot, as she insists?

The plot moves fast, with Lucy/Georgina trying to escape the asylum every way she can and trying to find out who did this to her and why. Harwood's skill in playing both sides of the is she/isn't she line is such that while I doubted her memory, I was still very much invested in her plans for escape.

There is a twist in the end that went towards why Lucy/Georgina might have had such a mental and emotional trauma that her memory was partially erased; however, I did not see it coming. The threads were so subtle and fine that it seemed to come out of nowhere.

As with Harwood's prior books, despite a solid resolution, The Asylum ends with a sense of unease and doom for the main character. The mystery might be solved, but it will not be a happily ever after for her.

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